For decades, there has been a major name debate regarding the appropriate title for PAs. However, on May 24, 2021 the American Academy of PAs (AAPA) House of Delegates (HOD) came to a vote. Over 100 possible titles were considered, but ultimately the winning vote was for "physician associate" which has led to a significant amount of discussion. What is the history behind this decision and why now? What has been the response? We discuss this and more in this new blog and podcast.
When it was announced thatAAPA's HOD voted to change the name of the profession from "physician assistant" to "physician associate" it was by a vast majority of those present at 198 to 68. It is worth noting that the AAPA Board of Directors (BOD) will now begin the process of how to implement the HOD policy which willcost an estimated $21.6 million based on the final Title Change Investigation report. However, AAPA recommended that PAs refrain from representing themselves as "physician associates" at this time based on recommendations from their legal counsel until legislative and regulatory changes can be made.
The process first started in May 2018 when the AAPA HOD met and passed a resolution requesting the AAPA BOD to create a new professional title for PAs. This has been seen as a necessary step for a variety of reasons but ultimately surrounds the many problems connected with the term "assistant" when most PAs are not necessarily fulfilling such a role. However, PAs are closely associated with and collaborate with physicians which is part of the reason for changing the title to "physician associate" as this better represents the typical functions of a PA clinically.
It is worth noting the history of the PA title. When PAs were first developed under the guidance of Dr. Eugene Stead at Duke University in 1965, it was with the title "physician's assistant" but later discussed how he saw them more as the role of an associate versus assistant. This was even more important as there were three kinds of physician assistants seen (A, B, and C) with the current version of PAs being the A-type. In 1971, the same time the American Medical Association (AMA) recognized the PA profession, the title of "physician associate" was also being recognized. However, the AMA and others then pushed the title back to "physician assistant" which is where it has been up until recently.
Additionally, "physician associate" is used in other parts of the world such as the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. This was done very specifically to avoid the confusion with other professions. This includes the difficulty the public has (and even some in healthcare) from distinguishing a "physician assistant" and a "medical assistant" (which is a common issue even in the United States). PAs also have graduate level education and the "assistant" term is not well translated versus "associate" which is frequently used across occupations include in academia. However, the "associate" term is still not perfect by any means and still is not specific to the exact role of a PA in healthcare.
Ultimately, there have been some very vocal physician groups that have spoken out since the vote for the change in the PA title. This includes the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) and ajoint statement from the American College of Emergency Physicians and Emergency Medicine Residents' Association (EMRA). While it is disappointing to read these statements, it is important to recognize why this change has been made.
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